Guanaja

Memories for a Lifetime

Guanaja, one of the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras, is known for its sweet water and tranquility. My trip there is coming to a close but the memories will last for a long time.

The water drains out of the uninhabited pine-dominated mountains, their pristine, yet accessible slopes providing stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding blue green Caribbean and the two island towns (one an oddly jam-packed group of simple homes on a tiny spit).

We just checked-out of Roland’s Garden Guesthouse where Roland, his wife Julia, one year old son Santiago, and German expatriated parents welcome visitors with a unique warmth and connection to the land. The Manati restaurant on site, run by Roland’s parents, Claus and Annette, beckons Caribbean sailors and local characters because of its famously hearty food and, for this traveler at least, German beer selection. Through word of mouth and local reputation alone, this restaurant attracts an intriguing fusion of people from around the world each afternoon and evening. Jimmy Carter has been there, and local celebrity John A. Smith, the last of the Caribbean pirates, often fills the bar with his rum fueled tales of the sea.

One evening, the island’s power kicked out – a monthly event that never lasts more than 12 hours. Klaus and Annette were unfazed – Annette adding a battery powered lamp to the electric one above our table, while the fireflies continued to sparkle in the garden between us and the ocean. Meanwhile, Roland and family, just up the hill, were unaware as their home and bed and breakfast is entirely solar powered (do not come here unless you think “green”). This reliable power source is an especially important feature for their guests because, without it, we might not be able to count on Julia’s delicious fresh baked bread or their ever-changing breakfast buffet, including fresh juice from local watermelons or pineapples.

Connection to the natural World

For me, though, it’s Roland’s connection to the natural world that sets this holiday destination apart. Because of his expertise, Guanaja is considered an important destination for any serious birder. On a short walk, he listened to and identified over 40 species of bird, many, like the mangrove warbler, undiscovered on the mainland. But Roland’s knowledge runs much deeper than birds. The nearby choral reef is another world he guides his visitors through. There, fish sporting blues and greens and reds weave through the brain shaped choral, a resident barracuda seemingly unperturbed by our presence. And, yes, if you look up from the water, Roland will likely spot something – in our case a peregrine falcon was soaring just above us.

Back on land, Roland continued to celebrate his natural world with us: he discovered a large, intense looking bat in its self-made leaf tent; identified the various lizards, iguanas and snakes (harmless) we encountered; illuminated creeping tarantulas (also harmless – Roland even had one fully up his pant leg in the past with no repercussions); wondered about burrowing holes that I would have never noticed; and informed me of the role of the cacao bean on the island when Columbus first set foot in the “new” world, this island itself (!) over 500 years ago.

What any traveler could only hope for

Roland has set up an island paradise with his extended family, and staying in his home is as intimate an experience as any traveler could hope for. Their boy, Santiago, glows with the tropical sun – open to sharing his budding bird imitations with their guests. I don’t know how he can do it – learn all the different languages around him, as well as the language of birds. It must be the sweet water.

by Goeff Davis

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